Regardless of whether it is accompanied by animosity or handled amicably, the end of a marriage can be a terribly upsetting experience.
There is the realisation that relationships which might have been nurtured over decades have broken down irreparably. Different people, of course, process the emotions involved in different ways. Immersing oneself in work, exercise, food or family are all relatively common, as is the indulgence in what has become known as ‘retail therapy’.
A ruling in March demonstrated how the courts can treat spending by former spouses in a very distinct fashion.
The Central London Family Court heard the case of a businesswoman, Jane Morris, who gave up her career to become what was described as a “conventional housewife”.
Her husband, Peter, had gone on to build a successful IT company during the course of their 25-year marriage. However, the Court was also told that “extravagant” spending, which continued after they broke up in 2013, brought them “to the brink of financial disaster”, reducing joint assets of several million pounds to £560,000.
The judge presiding in the case criticised Mr Morris’s expenditure, including his having six holidays in only nine months. Despite being accused of similar profligacy by her ex-husband, Mrs Morris was described as “a sensible woman” who was, said the judge, “probably in need of emotional and psychological comfort” while on her spending sprees.
As a result, and because abandoning her career had left her in her mid-fifties with “rusty skills”, the judge awarded her 90 per cent of the couple’s remaining assets. In addition, Mr Morris was ordered to pay £77,000 in unpaid child maintenance and to clear debts “from his share” of the assets, effectively leaving him with nothing from the marriage. It was, as the judge admitted, a “substantial departure” from the usual arrangement of a 50-50 split.
I was asked by the Daily Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/12193554/Divorcee-wins-90-per-cent-of-husbands-wealth-in-bitter-court-battle.html) for my impression of why the award in this case should have been so different from the norm.
My point was that there appeared to be some other factor in the judge’s reasoning than the needs of a now ex-wife and children.
The effect of Mr Morris’s spending on the joint asset ‘pot’ and his comparatively greater earning capacity into the future would seem to be the key element.
Although the shift from the 50-50 division is more marked than in most divorces, the role of spousal spending is not necessarily unusual.
There are – sometimes – cases in which spending is less ‘comfort shopping’ and more a means of reducing the available cash in an effort to limit the size of settlement which might be made to one spouse or other.
Such behaviour is often taken into account by the courts if it can be evidenced it was intentional, irrespective of whether the money goes on luxurious foreign vacations, sports cars or handbags.
Whatever the temptation to try and use credit cards and cash to right some perceived wrong within a failing marriage, honesty and moderation are the better courses of action. The negative consequences of indulgence and point-scoring can last far longer than the thrill of splashing the cash.